A loophole in state law allows cockfights in Texas to flourish and be a breeding ground for more serious criminal activity, including drug use, prostitution and trafficking associated with Mexican drug cartels, according to state lawmakers who met today at the Capitol. They hope that placing cockfighting on the same level as dog fighting will close this gap and prevent the inhumane slaughter of thousands of birds a year.
State Rep. Wayne Christian, R-Center, introduced House Bill 1043, which would make it a state jail felony to stage a cockfight, participate in the earnings or operations of a cockfighting facility, or permit another person to use property for a cockfight. Attending a cockfight would be a class C misdemeanor. Cockfighting is currently a state jail felony in Texas, but there is no penalty for spectators, owners of cockfighting materials or operators of cockfighting facilities.
Christian announced his legislation alongside officials from the Humane Society of the United States, who played a series of videos shot by investigators working undercover at various cockfights around the state. The films showed birds engaging in battle, stopping only after being mortally wounded. Their handlers clubbed some still limping birds to death as a punishment for having lost.
“Just stop and think for a moment: Had these been dogs in that ring, there would be no objection anywhere in our society today" to the proposed legislation, Christian told reporters.
John Goodwin, the director of animal cruelty policy at the Humane Society, said the legislation would take the handcuffs off of law enforcement officers, who presently have little authority to prosecute most of the people associated with cockfighting.
“What we're seeing a problem with in Texas is law enforcement raids a cockfight, there are 200 people there, but they have a hard time identifying which ones are fighting the birds. Everyone claims they were just there to be a spectator,” he said. “This closes those loopholes.”
Christian and bill supporter Rep. Eddie Lucio III, D-San Benito, also pointed to evidence offered by the Drug Enforcement Administration and federal prosecutors showing that Mexican cartels use the cockfights to network and further their enterprises. Last year, Pedro Mendez Ramos of Louisiana successfully used his cockfighting and dog fighting rings to “recruit members to transport and sell cocaine and marijuana for his organization,” according to a statement from the U.S. Justice Department. Gamecock cages with false bottoms and tractor-trailers with hidden compartments were used to transport the contraband through Texas, the statement says.
Asked the difference between killing a bird for food and killing a bird for sport, Goodwin said it's the way in which the bird dies. “This is intense suffering just so someone can have something to bet on,” he said.
Since 2006 there have been more than 55 cockfighting busts in Texas, according to the Humane Society. A similar bill filed last session passed the House and Senate but died in conference committee, Christian said.